Inside Meghan Markle's first Christmas with the royal family as the Duchess of Sussex

As her first Christmas in Sandringham as the Duchess of Sussex approaches, what can Meghan Markle expect?

By Katie Nicholl
As Meghan Markle prepares to spend her first official royal Christmas at Sandringham, Katie Nicholl recaps the Duke and Duchess' huge year and gives the inside story on what the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have in store for 2019...
To say it's been an eventful year for the Duchess of Sussex is an understatement. After the royal wedding, there was her first overseas tour to Australia and New Zealand in October alongside Prince Harry.
A month earlier, she'd launched her debut charity initiative Together, a cookbook released to raise funds for victims of the Grenfell tragedy. And who can forget the couple's pregnancy announcement? So it came as no surprise that last week Meghan was shortlisted for Time magazine's 'Person of the Year', just after being crowned the most Googled woman of 2018 in England.
In the 12 months that has seen Meghan become a fully-fledged royal, she's been described as a royal rule-breaker, a game- changer, a feminist princess, a revolutionary and then, more recently, a 'difficult' duchess. It's proof that a lot can happen in a year. This time last year, Harry and Meghan had only just announced their engagement.
The former Suits actress was preparing to attend her first family occasion with her new in-laws: staying at Anmer Hall, William and Kate's Norfolk home, and attending a few royal engagements. At the Christmas Day church service (where Harry had to remind Meghan to curtsy in front of the Queen), it seemed a new and exciting era for the monarchy was beginning.
As Meghan, Harry, Kate and William casually walked to church together laughing and joking, it prompted the media to coin the phrase 'the Fab Four'.
Meghan's first Christmas with the royals in 2017 - what a great curtsy!
"Meghan is used to an American Christmas, which lasts for just one day, so the festivities at Sandringham with all the immediate members of the royal family are very different for her," says royal author Ingrid Seward.
"She has never experienced the present opening on Christmas Eve or the traditional Boxing Day shoot as last year she was staying at Anmer Hall with William and Kate and only went to Sandringham for lunch.
When growing up in LA, Meghan would join her parents taking turkeys to homeless shelters in Skid Row, as well as volunteering in soup kitchens. At home, meanwhile, she enjoyed a casual Christmases making her signature Almond Milk Spiced Holiday Cocktails. The rigorous routine at Sandringham will be quite a contrast.
"There is a strict arrival time with the royals coming from 9am on Christmas Eve in order of precedence," adds Ingrid, before the family sit down for a celebratory meal. "After dinner the family open presents which will have been laid out on trestle tables. Meghan will have been advised to buy small gifts, or even home-made presents as expensive gifts are considered gauche by the Queen."
Such a task will no doubt come easily to Meghan, who famously presented home-baked banana bread on the second day of the Australia tour, when she visited a farm.
Meghan and Harry arriving at a 2018 Christmas lunch. Image: Getty Images
Harry and Meghan's private secretary, Samantha Cohen, who will be stepping down from the post next year, has made sure that Meghan is familiar with all the dos and don'ts at Christmas time.
"Sam is a safe pair of hands and will make sure Meghan knows everything she will need to do and what to pack," says a royal source. "It's easy to get caught out at Sandringham if you're new to it. For example, there's a very short turnaround before pre-dinner drinks on Christmas Eve. The Queen is very quick at getting ready and doesn't like to be kept waiting so you have to be swift and be able to bathe, dress and do your make-up in about 30 minutes."
Cherry brandy and cider from the estate are offered to guests before dinner when champagne is served. And no one goes to bed until Her Majesty has retired. After church on Christmas morning, they return to the house for Christmas lunch.
Meghan has already started planning her wardrobe. Grazia understands she has commissioned a striking maternity gown for the black-tie occasion, and she will require up to five outfit changes a day and several hat options for church on Christmas Day. It's believed that William and Kate will leave Sandringham at some point over the festivities to visit the Middletons in Berkshire. Harry and Meghan meanwhile are said to be seeing in the New Year at their Cotswolds farm.
One thing is for sure, as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex go into 2019, there will be lots of changes. Following the recent news that they're leaving Kensington Palace for Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, Harry and Meghan have made it clear they want to strike out on their own. "Harry has a new confidence now that he has Meghan in his life," said a friend.
"He wants to do his own thing now and be his own person. Nestled in the grounds of Windsor Home Park, Frogmore is currently being converted from staff quarters into a five-room family home with an annex for Doria, along with a yoga studio. Preparations have also begun for the arrival of their first baby: Meghan is said to be looking at a having a home birth and studying hypnobirthing. But the duchess has also told courtiers she wants to work as close to her due date as possible.
Already, Meghan has had a number of private meetings with charities and organisations including the Royal Variety Charity, and CAMFED, the Campaign for Female Education. It is expected that she will also announce at least one patronage in the new year.
"Every six months, Harry and Meghan go through their diaries," said a royal insider. "Meghan is expected to be on maternity leave for a fair amount of time. But it's believed they will do another big tour in spring 2019, which will probably be to America or Canada."
But will next year bring as many explosive headlines? Watch this space.
Via our sister site Grazia.